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Activist-lawyer receives criminal conviction over references to "Kurdistan"

(BIANET/IFEX) - On 16 October 2007, the Penal Court in Viransehir, in the province of Sanliurfa in southeastern Turkey, convicted human rights activist and lawyer Eren Keskin to one year in prison for saying: "If we look at the state statistics on perpetrators of sexual violence in Turkey and Kurdistan, then soldiers are in the majority; the reason there are so many is the war in Kurdistan."

Judge Hüseyin Ugurlu decreased the sentence to 10 months due to "the possible effects of the sentence on the defendant" and, based on Article 4 of Law No. 647, converted the sentence to a fine of 3300 YTL (approx. US$2700).

Keskin was informed of the decision on 20 November.

In another case against Keskin, the Public Prosecution in Bulanik, in the province of Mus in southeastern Turkey, dropped proceedings against her for using the word "Kurdistan", arguing that "although it was unacceptable, it consisted of a statement of opinion" and that Keskin had "used the term 'Kurdistan' to refer to the areas where Kurds are in the majority."

In Bulanik, Keskin had spoken at an event on 17 September 2006, in which she said: "It is impossible to understand the Kurdish question without coming to Kurdistan; here they see that the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) has become like a state; this is a reality, and accepting that, one has to try and find a solution."

At a Culture and Arts Festival in Viransehir on 2 October 2004, former Human Rights Association (IHD) president Keskin used the expression "Kurdistan". Speaking at a panel entitled "Woman, Society and Family", Keskin said: "But could you display this attitude in other places, in Istanbul, in Usak or in Izmir? Then we call the murders there 'honour' killings and the murders in Kurdistan 'custom' killings."

In the same speech, she said: "Because in Kurdistan women have really always come on stage with demands" and "they are far from the reality of Kurdistan". These statements were used to justify her sentence under Article 312/2 of the old Penal Code. The court decreed that the use of the word "Kurdistan" "incites hatred and hostility of one social group against another based on regional differences".

Fatma Karakas, Keskin's lawyer, reported that they would file an appeal. Karakas said, "It is unacceptable in democracies that statements which do not contain violence and which represent an opinion are punished. In legislation on these issues, Turkey is below international standards."

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